MLS Expansion Remains An Enticing Possibility Despite Questions Surrounding Profitability
Twelve cities are "clamoring for the right" to join MLS as the league's latest expansion clubs, which is "pretty impressive for a league that still hasn't proven that most of its teams can consistently turn a profit," according to Matthew Futterman of the WALL STREET JOURNAL. The investment in a team "doesn’t quite pencil out in the short term." However, there is "no shortage of buyers with deep pockets who say they expect a healthy return on their investments over the long haul." MLS Commissioner Don Garber said that the "money coming in won’t cover the league’s continuing losses in coming years." Sources said that MLS franchise revenues range from $15-50M annually, though most are on the "lower end of that spectrum." Each team "receives just a few million dollars in national television rights fees from deals with ESPN, Fox and Univision" that run through '22, so even "doubling or tripling rights fees for the next deal won’t have a major impact" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 3/1). In N.Y., Matt Pentz writes whether "continued expansion is the best path forward for the league is a topic of debate." Garber "plays down concerns about diluting a still-developing talent pool, but there is little doubt that MLS still has some distance to go on that front to catch up to the biggest European leagues" (NYTIMES.com, 3/3).
TACKLING THE PRESSING ISSUES: To kick off opening weekend of the '17 MLS season, Garber spoke with SBJ's Ian Thomas about his excitement for the debut teams in Minnesota and Atlanta, the growth in commercial success and in the number of soccer-specific stadiums, and the strong bids from a long list of cities that want to join in the next round of expansion.
LONG-TERM APPROACH: Atlanta United Owner Arthur Blank was asked as part of a Q&A with the ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION's Doug Roberson whether MLS will "supplant all leagues other than the NFL in popularity, as measured by TV ratings, average attendance, etc. within the next 10 years." Blank said, "They've got a long way to go, but the trend line is significantly up. If you are asking if it can exceed Major League Baseball or the NBA, yes, I think it could. I'm not sure when" (ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION, 3/3).
ADVANCING WITH THE TIMES: In DC, Steven Goff notes soccer in general has been "slow to embrace technology," but MLS during the preseason was given "permission to experiment with video reviews on goals, penalty decisions, red-card incidents and cases of mistaken identity." When a "questionable play or decision arises, a video assistant referee communicates with the referee to prompt a review." During the first part of the regular season, the league will "test the system offline in every venue without interrupting the match or changing decisions." It then plans to "implement video review into select matches after the All-Star Game" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 3/2).
ACCESSIBILITY MATTERS: Garber appeared on CNBC's "Power Lunch" on Tuesday and said the league's online strategy is "trying to get our players, our games, our fan connections everywhere we can on every device." Garber: "We're really no different than any other content holder or provider. You can't just depend on your broadcasters to do that" ("Power Lunch," CNBC, 2/28).
BATTLE OF THE LEAGUES: MLS Dir of Player Programs Alfonso Mondelo said that the door "remains open and talks are ongoing about the much-touted tournament between Liga MX and MLS sides, but finding dates for it is proving a to be a headache." Mondelo: "The problem is finding dates that are open to insert (the tournament) into the calendars of both leagues" (ESPNFC.com, 3/1).